The renowned naturalist joins a group of eminent scientists, business executives and politicians backing a 10-year public research and development plan to cut the costs of clean energy and deliver affordable technologies to store and transport solar and wind power.
In a letter to the Guardian, the group argue that the approach, mirroring the intense Apollo programme that put men on the moon, “will not only pay for itself but provide economic benefits to the nations of the world”.
“I have been lucky enough to spend my life exploring the world’s oceans, forests and deserts. But the Earth, with its spectacular variety of creatures and landscapes, is now in danger,” said Attenborough. “Just one thing, however, would be enough to halt climate change. If clean energy became cheaper than coal, gas or oil, fossil fuel would simply stay in the ground.”
Scientists estimate that about 80% of fossil fuel reserves must remain buried if global warming is to be limited to 2C, a rise seen as the safety limit.
“In the 1960s, scientists overcame immense odds to achieve something extraordinary – the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Attenborough said. “Now some of the finest minds must again unite in the face of an even greater challenge.”
“Most of the great advances of the last 100 years have come from publicly-funded research – computers, satellites, the internet, smart phones,” he said.
The letter, whose signatories include oil executive Lord John Browne, former energy secretary Ed Davey and climate scientist Sir Brian Hoskins, says: “The plan requires leading governments to invest a total of $15bn (£10bn) a year in research, development and demonstration of clean energy. That compares to the $100bn currently invested in defence R&D globally each year.”
“Public investment now will save governments huge sums in the future. What is more, a coordinated R&D plan can help bring energy bills down for billions of consumers,” they say, noting that renewable energy currently gets less than 2% of publicly funded R&D.
The backers of the Global Apollo Programme, who also include Unilever CEO Paul Polman, economist Lord Nicholas Stern, MP Zac Goldsmith, former chair of the Financial Services Authority Lord Adair Turner and former cabinet secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell, urge the world’s nations to back the plan ahead of a crunch climate summit in Paris in December.
The plan has already been discussed by G7 energy ministers and Sir David King, currently the UK’s climate change envoy, has said Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister and solar energy enthusiast, is keen.
Some experts argue that fossil fuels are far more expensive than they appear, when subsidies and the costs of the damage their pollution causes is included. The IMF recently estimated that state support for coal, oil and gas, and the costs to countries of air pollution and climate change was $5.3tn a year.